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Old 03-19-2016, 01:35 PM   #1
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Default What's the Best Small-Engine Muscle Car?




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What's the Best Small-Engine Muscle Car?

V6MuscleCar_Challenge_GroupShotA_Lead.jpg
Americans always have loved muscle cars, and with gas below $2 a gallon in many parts of the country, there might not be a better time to be a fan. We tested muscle cars with small engines, and we tested them with V-8 monsters. This test concerns the smaller-engine versions, which still provide plenty of thrills, but are a little easier to live with, both in fuel costs and as daily drivers.

The Small-Engine Muscle Car Challenge

Results | Performance | Mileage Test

The contenders:

2016 Chevrolet Camaro 1LT V-6

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus V-6

2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Premium Fastback

We flexed these muscle cars in a week's worth of testing:

We put them on a racetrack outside of Phoenix to see how well they performed in zero-to-60-mph tests, quarter-mile times and speeds, and 60-mph-to-zero braking distance tests.
We drove them on a 130-mile real-world mileage course in and around Phoenix.
We had our judges drive them back-to-back-to-back on the same pavement to evaluate ride, handling, comfort, acceleration and more.
From all of the points we awarded in those tests, we found our winner. Our judges were:

Aaron Bragman, Cars.com Detroit bureau chief
Joe Bruzek, Cars.com senior road test editor
Joe Wiesenfelder, Cars.com executive editor
Brian Robinson, PBS "MotorWeek" producer
The scoring broke down this way:

60 percent from the judges' scoring
30 percent from the track tests
10 percent from the mileage drive
Here's how they finished:

What You Get

Cars.com graphics by Paul Dolan


What the Judges Said

32016 Dodge Challenger SXT, 780 points

The Verdict: "With the looks of a nostalgic muscle car and the drivability of a large sedan, the Challenger SXT is more 'show' than 'go,' " Bruzek said.

2016 Dodge Challenger SXT; Cars.com photos by Evan Sears


What They Liked

Interior quality: "It's top-notch, with excellent plastic, metal and leather," Bragman said. "The interior is a clear winner," Wiesenfelder said. "Roomy, comfortable and with the best interior design and quality of the group."

Comfort: "It may look like a muscle car, but it is big-sedan comfortable," Robinson said. "Quietest interior of the bunch, even on the worst possible pavement," Bragman said. "It's positively serene at highway speeds." "The Challenger is the only car in the comparison with enough interior room to fit four adults comfortably," Bruzek added.

Brakes: "You wouldn't expect powerful braking at this size without optional performance brakes," Bruzek said, "but the Challenger V-6 slows like a smaller car with a confident pedal providing plenty of stopping power." "It's got impressive braking, especially considering the car's weight, with better pedal feel than the Camaro," Wiesenfelder said.

And...: "It's surprisingly agile for a giant car," Wiesenfelder said. "Even in V-6 trim, it looks bad to the bone," Robinson said. "And Uconnect is the best infotainment system as far as I'm concerned." "The high seating position combines with an upright cabin to provide outstanding visibility," Bragman said.

What They Didn't

The driver's position: "A massive steering wheel, in diameter and girth, coupled with a seat mounted high off the ground mimics the driving position of a school bus," Bruzek said.

Size matters: "It's so darn big," Robinson said. "The mass that makes the street experience so comfortable works against the Challenger on the track, where it feels slow and ponderous," Bragman said.

Transmission: "The automatic didn't work well for on the track," Robinson said. "The engine is so quiet that you have to watch the tachometer to know when to shift, and if you don't trigger it just right, it gives you a 'shift unavailable at this time' message and lets you abuse the rev limiter." "The eight-speed that does a fine job in normal use doesn't respond quickly enough for performance driving in Sport mode, or when shifting manually," Wiesenfelder said.

Acceleration: "It doesn't feel as quick as its competitors," Wiesenfelder said. "While decently quick, I wouldn't call the Challenger SXT 'fun to drive' by any stretch of the imagination," Bruzek said. "This is not a happy track car, with slow steering, a high center of gravity and lazy transmission keeping it from being competitive," Bragman said.

Handling: "There's way too much roll in the corners for me to really enjoy," Robinson said. "The handling doesn't keep up with the other two," Wiesenfelder said.

Research the 2016 Dodge Challenger SXT Plus | Search Inventory

22016 Chevrolet Camaro 1LT, 783 points

The Verdict: "Its light weight and other performance improvements make the 2016 Camaro a far better car than the previous generation, but Chevy's refusal to improve interior space and all-around visibility keep it from winning this contest," Wiesenfelder said.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro 1LT; Cars.com photos by Evan Sears


What They Liked

Its drivetrain: It's "nicely executed," Wiesenfelder said, "with excellent off-the-line power and a well-behaved automatic transmission." "The eight-speed transmission is the best automatic here," Robinson said.

Acceleration: "The car is light and it feels that way, both on the street and on the track," Wiesenfelder said. "Its acceleration blows the other small-engine muscle cars out of the water," Bruzek said, "and it does so with the wail of a high-revving sports car through the optional dual-mode exhaust."

Speaking of that exhaust note: "You know it's a V-6, but it sure sounds like a V-8 when you get on the gas," Robinson said.

Handling: "It's astounding how precise and well-balanced the Camaro drives in its base trim, sans any optional suspension package such as the Mustang and Challenger have," Bruzek said. "There isn't even an optional suspension on the Camaro LT." "The excellent handling rises above the level of the muscle car," Wiesenfelder said, "and into the realm of sports cars."

And...: "It has a comfortable seating position," Bragman said, "with plenty of width and legroom up front." "I think they've got the look just right," Robinson added. "The availability of Apple CarPlay makes the low-rent multimedia system (barely) acceptable," Bragman said.

What They Didn't

Visibility: Every judge found it lacking. "The extreme styling hurts utility and comfort, not to mention performance, because it's hard to see past the obstructive windshield pillars," Wiesenfelder said. "The super-high belt line combines with the low roof to make visibility the worst of all the cars here," Bragman said.

Low-quality interior: "The LT1 interior with cloth seats looks like a rental-car special," Bragman said. "Everything nice about the SS has been removed, from soft-touch door panels to attractive gauges." "While the interior style is interesting and fun," Bruzek said, "the materials lack the quality and soft-touch niceness of the Mustang and Challenger."

Tight quarters: "The driver's area is incredibly cramped," Robinson said. "The head restraint juts forward too far and isn't adjustable, which I found uncomfortable on the street, and even worse when trying to get situated under the low roof with a helmet on," Wiesenfelder said. "Losing headroom with the sunroof forces taller people into a lower seating position that makes the already poor visibility even more difficult to cope with," Bragman said.

And...: "The numbers may look good, but the brake pedal is mushy and seriously nonlinear," Wiesenfelder said. "I understand it's a sports car," Bragman said, "but is there no way to make a decently sized trunk opening? For a car this size, it's almost comically small."

Research the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro RS | Search Inventory

12016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Premium Fastback, 821 points

The Verdict: "The EcoBoost really does have more of a European-style coupe feel to it than outright muscle car, and that's just fine," Robinson said, "as it really has expanded the appeal of the Mustang to a whole new audience."

2016 Ford Mustang EcoB; Cars.com photos by Evan Sears


What They Liked

The EcoBoost engine performance: "To the driver, nothing about the EcoBoost engine says turbocharged or four-cylinder," Wiesenfelder said. "Though it might not benefit efficiency, I still prefer a six-speed to an eight-speed automatic." "The turbocharged 2.3-liter packs a good wallop when passing at highway speeds, with a faint turbocharger whistle letting you know there's something unique under the hood," Bruzek said. "I find the EcoBoost motor to be plenty entertaining to drive," Bragman said. "The car feels lighter than the scales would suggest."

Visibility: In a clear shot at the Camaro, Wiesenfelder said: "You can see out of it. In all directions."

Infotainment: "Ford's Sync 3 is a huge improvement over the Mustang's previous multimedia system that makes using a phone for audio entertainment an enjoyable experience," Bruzek said. "The new Sync 3 works great," Bragman said, "with speed that is noticeable versus the competitors' systems."

And...: "Best compromise of daily driver demeanor with performance attitude," Robinson said. "This is a beautiful car with sexy styling that pays homage to its heritage while still looking modern," Bragman said. "The Mustang's relaxed seating position and excellent ride quality, even with the optional EcoBoost Performance Package, are keys to the Mustang being a great daily driver," Bruzek said. "It has the most linear braking," Wiesenfelder added.

What They Didn't

Poor build quality: "It's apparent from nose to tail, with excessive inconsistencies between hood, trunk and body panel fitment," Bruzek said. "Some body parts are noticeably misaligned," Robinson added. All of this "makes a terrible impression on anyone who bothers to notice," Wiesenfelder said.

Sad exhaust note: "Unless you're inside, where the drivetrain sound is electronically augmented, it sounds like a Focus," Wiesenfelder said, "if that." To Bruzek, the engine packs a punch but "it's weak from a start and gets wheezy when revved to the redline."

Poor interior touches: "It just feels cheap to me," Bragman said, "with this fake machine-turned plastic dash looking more like snake scales than actual metal." "The low-quality leather upholstery had me yearning for some nice cloth," Wiesenfelder said.

And...: "The backseat doesn't have a huge advantage over the Camaro," Bruzek said. "There's a lot of road noise transmitted into the cabin through the big wheels and tires," Bragman noticed, "even on smooth surfaces." "The ride quality was a little rougher than I expected," Robinson said.

Research the 2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost | Search Inventory

How the Competitors Fared in Each Category
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Old 03-19-2016, 02:14 PM   #2
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How are the Challenger and Camaro so close?

The Camaro V6 is a very good car. The Challenger is just terrible with every engine, Hellcat included.
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Old 03-19-2016, 02:16 PM   #3
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2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T: First Drive

Thereís a dip and a crest through turn 1 of Spring Mountainís 1.5 mile track, one of 30-plus configurations offered by the motorsports resort. The natural reaction is to slow down when approaching this asphalt undulation, so as to not upset the vehicle one may be driving. Against natural instinct, I kept the throttle pinned as I darted into the wave, keeping focus on the apex and straightaway just ahead of it. Through the acceleration down and up the disrupting pavement, the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T remained composed, and happily whistled all 24 psi through its 2.0L turbocharged LTG inline-four through the apex and to the straight. I dropped the clutch, and entered another gear.

Itís perfectly normal to feel skeptical about a Camaro with a four cylinder engine. We donít have to look too far to reference the Iron Duke four-cylinder engine put in the third-generation Chevrolet Camaros of the early 1980s. Not the best time for muscle cars. But 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque on tap in the 2016 Camaro 2.0T does command respect. One of the reasons is because of the weight savings of nearly 400 pounds when compared to the outgoing base Camaro, and with more torque on top of that. At roughly 3,340 pounds of curb weight (or a bit more depending on the options), itís great to finally see the iconic Chevy nameplate go on a significant diet. Yay, Alpha platform.

A 2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T also gives something to RWD coupe buyers that Subaru and Toyota never did, and thatís a turbocharger. The after market should swoon over this entry level model just as much as theyíre currently swooning over the 455 hp 2016 Camaro SS. And while there will always be the factions that prefer small four cylinder import cars to high-displacement American cars and vise-versa, this particular Camaro could have open-minded customers bridging the gap between the two. Because to just categorize a Camaro as a simple ďmuscle carĒ these days is rather dismissive. The sixth-generation Camaro has even caught standard-bearing German brands off guard. Let alone brands from Japan or Detroit. Itís more than the traditional sense of a muscle car. So we have to think of it as more than just a muscle car.

Shaking down the 2016 Camaro turbo around Spring Mountainís track and the deserted roads leading into Death Valley both validated assumptions and revealed some surprises. The 2.0L turbo does provide a surprising amount of punch, with a 5.4 second 0-60 acceleration time ó mirroring a 390 hp, 500 lb-ft 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle 454 SS. In Sport mode, the pedal mapping keeps things sharp, and like other LTG applications, thereís minimal turbo lag. Just the same, the engine does wear out after the 5,200 rpm mark or so. Though on short, winding courses, this characteristic is unnoticeable, as the driver would be too busy navigating the constant switch-backs and braking zones. A 2016 Camaro 2.0T would be great for autocross, if the SCCA places it in the D-Stock category, with cars like the BMW 228i and Ford Mustang EcoBoost. And with 245-wide Goodyear Eagle Sport A/S asymmetrical all seasons on Camaro turbos with the LT trim level, the tire selection and size appears generous, and definitely aids in the handling department. And while the suspension is also well adjusted, thereís no magnetic ride control to be found here. At least, not yet.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro interior in Kalahari leather


Did I mention the sound of the 2016 Camaro 2.0T? It sounds great. A GM four cylinder exhaust with some personality, you wonder? Yes, finally. Iíd go as far to say as the Camaro with an LTG is the best sounding four cylinder from General Motors since the Chevrolet Cobalt SS. A healthy portion of angry little noises with the combination of turbo spool is definitely going to cater to a certain demographic in a way that the European-sounding rasp of the 2016 Camaro V6 or the increasingly unreachable V8 option cannot.

The top speed on the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T is just under 150 miles per hour, which is plenty for an entry-level model. And with empty roads reaching forward as far as the eyes can see, itís very easy to channel the inner Hunter S. Thompson as he rockets out of Bat Country. Another reminder that the Camaro 2.0T is an entry level model is the amount of lift felt at high speeds, but weíre sure that thereís some eventual aero accessories coming. At normal speeds, itís a complete non-issue.

The cabin is modern, quiet and even comfortable. Youíve probably already read somewhere that visibility is about the same as the fifth-generation Camaro, so it takes some time to get adjusted when it comes to routines like parking. The seats in the 2016 Camaro 2.0T tester driven were not the Recaros that can be acquired in the 2016 Camaro SS, though they sufficed for our long cruise into Death Valley, where something called the Super Bloom is happening. The desert floor bordering the road was filled with flowers, which is astonishing to think about, given the extreme environment.

At a starting baseline MSRP of $25,700, the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T slots just above a (less athletic) 2016 Ford Mustang V6, and a stoneís throw away from a Subaru BRZ. Which is far less car for the money. It may be a different Camaro from what the world has gotten used to, but thatís the exciting part. So the next time you visit a Chevrolet dealer that has a Camaro turbo on the lot, donít scoff at it. Give it a whirl.
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Old 03-19-2016, 02:19 PM   #4
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Which brings up another point:

They tested the Eco Boost Mustang, but not the Camaro turbo....


Da hell?
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Old 03-19-2016, 05:21 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Hondaslayer View Post
Which brings up another point:

They tested the Eco Boost Mustang, but not the Camaro turbo....


Da hell?
It's weird but in fairness, those are both the uprated engine choices; since the Mustang bases with the V6 and the Camaro with the turbo-4. I guess the outlier then is that they really did compare the base Challenger to those. Maybe that's what they were sent.
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Old 03-19-2016, 05:36 PM   #6
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Ya, those are all the "mid" option spec cars...

But I do want to see an Ecoboost vs. Camaro Turbo test!
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Old 03-19-2016, 06:39 PM   #7
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Tell ya what that **** with the sub par panel gaps and low end interior with GT would turn me off. So, they got poor visibility on the Camaro. I love to look at car lines I don't car if it's a 79 Tercel. Throw it in the garage and over time the more you look the more you see. It's like woman that makes you hard.

A lot of people say the new A4 is bland, but when I look at where the hood closes down and it hits the line that goes all the way down to the gas cap I get hard. That's the kind of stuff you see in hand made coach built cars. In today's world of manufacturing and tolerance it shouldn't be going on.
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Old 03-20-2016, 09:35 AM   #8
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Get the V6 Camaro and be done with it. The ecoboost Mustang has a horrible resale value. No reason for a 4 banger on the buy cost either, In the end after 2,3, or even 5 year it may just be cheaper to buy the V6 Camaro, Mustang V6 or V8 after resale. I wonder how the WRX or STI would fare in this comparison ?
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Old 03-21-2016, 12:39 AM   #9
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Answer is they all suck without V8 engines.
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Old 03-21-2016, 01:41 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by OrbitalEllipses View Post
Answer is they all suck without V8 engines.
I didn't want to say it...
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Old 03-21-2016, 02:18 AM   #11
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Answer is they all suck without V8 engines.
Objectively, they don't, though. The V6/Turbo-4 models still offer a tremendous amount of performance, and are more than competitive with most (and even outright beat some) of the other options in the segment. The question is more a value-proposition, since if you've already spent the ~$30K and maybe some change for a well optioned mid-range pony car, you may as well go the extra $2-5K and get the ludicrous speed model instead; especially if performance is a factor you have in mind. The performance gap to the V8's is also quite wide, far displacing the old WRX/STI argument of "maybe you can tune the lower end model and get most of the same performance"; with the pony cars, you certainly can't.

Last edited by Skunkers; 03-21-2016 at 02:24 AM.
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Old 03-21-2016, 02:37 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by OrbitalEllipses View Post
Answer is they all suck without V8 engines.
I have zero interest in these cars with the V8's.

Unless its supercharged, then I have interest. I'd rather see the Viper V10 in the Challenger than the V8 too. The mustang with the 3-cylinder turbo from the Fiesta would be a hoot.
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Old 03-21-2016, 09:13 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by OrbitalEllipses View Post
Answer is they all suck without V8 engines.

I agree to disagree. I would never own any of them without the V8 unless I was going to throw massive boost in the Chevy 4. But like the article states the new turbo four is better then the z28 of a couple years ago. So many other cars in this price group for daily drivers that are so much better.
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Old 03-21-2016, 11:30 AM   #14
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I've got a 2015 Ecoboost mustang with manual trans and 50 years package. I've got a 2016 GT on order. I just can't deal with the awful sound anymore.

The problem with the 4 cylinder spec of these cars is that they are too heavy to be lightweight sporty coupes (think BRZ but more power) but too underpowered and awful-sounding to be effective muscle car replacements.

But at least with the 4 cylinder you can say you have a turbo. The problem with the V6 is that now you have a V6 Mustang or Camaro. Same as a highschool girl's hand-me-down from her now-divorced mom, who since graduated to a 2 series convertible.

"so what do you drive?"
"a new mustang"
"Cool! is it a V8?"
"No it's a V6"
"oh. my sister has one of those"

nevermind that your V6 has 100 more horsepower than her 10 year old convertible Mustang, it's still a V6.
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Old 03-22-2016, 10:12 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by arghx7 View Post
But at least with the 4 cylinder you can say you have a turbo. The problem with the V6 is that now you have a V6 Mustang or Camaro. Same as a highschool girl's hand-me-down from her now-divorced mom, who since graduated to a 2 series convertible.

"so what do you drive?"
"a new mustang"
"Cool! is it a V8?"
"No it's a V6"
"oh. my sister has one of those"


nevermind that your V6 has 100 more horsepower than her 10 year old convertible Mustang, it's still a V6.

The "stigma" struggle is real yo!!!
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Old 03-22-2016, 10:45 AM   #16
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Lol my sis has one..it's like the commercial couple making out on bench guy walk by and says wow you two look like brother sister
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Old 03-22-2016, 11:32 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AVANTI R5 View Post
I agree to disagree. I would never own any of them without the V8 unless I was going to throw massive boost in the Chevy 4. But like the article states the new turbo four is better then the z28 of a couple years ago. So many other cars in this price group for daily drivers that are so much better.
I fully recognize the new smaller engines are better the big engines of yore. Fully. The new big engines are also better than the old big engines...so, that point is somewhat moot to me personally. I do, however, recognize and value your opinion AVANTI.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rob1n1 View Post
I didn't want to say it...
You're welcome.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boostdog View Post
The "stigma" struggle is real yo!!!
Hairdresser or mullet? I pick mullet stigma, every time. A car like this is at the end of the day a lifestyle statement. It sucks when your $25-$35K statement gets you called a nancy, but some people can deal with that and others can't.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Skunkers View Post
Objectively, they don't, though. The V6/Turbo-4 models still offer a tremendous amount of performance, and are more than competitive with most (and even outright beat some) of the other options in the segment. The question is more a value-proposition, since if you've already spent the ~$30K and maybe some change for a well optioned mid-range pony car, you may as well go the extra $2-5K and get the ludicrous speed model instead; especially if performance is a factor you have in mind. The performance gap to the V8's is also quite wide, far displacing the old WRX/STI argument of "maybe you can tune the lower end model and get most of the same performance"; with the pony cars, you certainly can't.
They're not. The V6 and the four pot turbos ARE better engines than the old V8s...but when a small four figure sum gets you the V8? The V8 that makes over 400hp and moves the vehicle in the sub 8.5lb:hp realm? Yeah, no brainer.
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